Indonesia possesses some of world’s richest forests in terms of biodiversity, carbon values and sheer beauty.
The nation’s forests have fostered a diversity of cultural systems and are home to around 32,000 forest villages representing 36 percent of the country’s rural population. For centuries, rural communities have utilized and protected these forests, recognizing their economic, cultural and spiritual importance.
Communities act as stewards of endangered biodiversity and terrestrial carbon stocks that must be retained to slow global climate change. Yet, the important national and global services that Indonesia’s forest communities provide are often poorly understood or recognized by planners and the public.
During the colonial period, the rights of forest people were largely unrecognized under agrarian laws that claimed vast forest regions as state land. After independence, forest resources were targeted for commercial timber utilization with little recognition of the ecological value of the resources or the ancestral
domain claims of forest residents.
The 1990s witnessed the conversion of natural forests into industrial timber concessions, oil palm plantations and mineral resource extraction, again with limited recognition of the environmental costs or the socio-economic impact on rural communities.
Policy reform in 1999 provided a stronger legal basis for community forest rights and community engagement in national resource management systems. Since then, several models have been introduced, including social forestry (perhutanan sosial), community forestry (hutan kemasyarakatan), village forest (hutan desa) and community plantation (hutan tanaman rakyat). Unfortunately, the devolution progress has been slow, mired in complicated licensing procedures that have resulted in few communities gaining legally recognized tenure security to their forests, while tens of millions of hectares of Indonesia’s forests have been leased to commercial operations. Long range models indicate that at the current rate of forest conversion, much of Indonesia’s remarkable forest ecosystems will disappear in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua by 2050 if the policies governing forests are not substantially changed.
Rewarding communities for forest protection and management by recognizing their rights and providing them with technical and financial resources to manage local forests and watersheds effectively may be Indonesia’s best hope of ensuring that future generations will enjoy the nation’s rich forest endowment. New momentum is provided by the emergence of Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) — a global initiative toward which Indonesia has made a major political commitment. But how can the opportunities provided by REDD+ enable Indonesia to promote its community forestry and provide forest communities with recognition and rewards for their contribution?
At the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP-18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012, it became clear that successful REDD+ initiatives required enabling national policies and successful sub-national projects, rather than depending on elusive global agreements.
In light of this issue, in January 2013, the Asia REDD+ Working Group met in Indonesia to share experiences in implementing REDD+ initiatives that support forest dependent communities. Consisting of civil society organizations and government representatives from Indonesia and many other South and Southeast Asian countries, the group sought to generate insights into ways to make community REDD+ a success.
The meeting has resulted in some key principles, which were embodied in an accord to help guide emerging national REDD+ strategies. First, communities need to have meaningful resource management authority and authorization to receive financial payments for any ecosystem services they provide. Second, communities should take part in processes to design benefit sharing systems that ensure benefits are distributed equitably, are locally meaningful and reflect needs, efforts and investment. Lastly, government laws and policies must value the role communities play in sustaining forest ecosystem services, including providing them with meaningful resource rights.
Communities should be an explicit and integral part of the planning and implementation process at all levels.
Indonesia is well-positioned to implement a community-based REDD+ strategy that can deliver multiple benefits from the nation’s forests that extend far beyond carbon. These include important hydrological functions that guarantee water supplies, reduce downstream flooding and control the erosion and sedimentation of reservoirs, while protecting the country’s rich biodiversity.
Equally important, such an initiative should be mainstreamed to non-forestry sectors to help ensure stable, sustainable and equitable economic growth among Indonesia’s rural communities, providing a cornerstone to a green economic transition from village to national level.
Furthermore, community lives are very diverse so the sustainability and success of community REDD+ initiatives should be supported by other sectors such as health, education, fisheries, crop estate and others. Most importantly, to succeed, there is a need for a higher level of trust in the nation’s forest communities, which have a long track record of forest management and protection.
A streamlined system for reviewing and approving community requests for management rights needs to be established quickly through coordinated efforts and political will at the district, provincial and national levels.
An empowered community is a powerful force for change in our collective effort to protect and restore the world’s forests and address global climate change.
Mark Poffenberger is executive director of Community Forestry International and Herlina Hartanto is senior manager of community and protected areas at The Nature Conservancy.